On February 15, 2020 Indian police arrested and charged three students from KLE Institute of Technology with sedition after a video on social media allegedly depicted the students chanting pro-Pakistan slogans. The students were released the following day but were rearrested on February 17 following protests by right wing groups. The students were reportedly suspended from KLE Institute of Technology pending an investigation. They remain in custody as of this report.
On February 15, a video was circulated on social media in which Basit Asif Sofi, Talib Majeed, and Amir Mohiuddin Wahi, three Kashmiri students studying at the KLE Institute of Technology in Hubballi, allegedly chanted pro-Pakistan slogans. This video prompted a protest at the Institute by members of the far-right paramilitary organisation Bajrang Dal, who demanded that these three students be arrested and tried for sedition. Members of Bajrang Dal met with the principal of the Institute who subsequently reported the three Kashmiri students to the police. It was reported that members of Bajrang Dal verbally abused and physically attacked the three students at their places of residence on campus. The three students were then arrested by the police on sedition charges and suspended from the Institute.
Police released the students the next day, citing a lack of evidence, on the condition that the students agree in writing to answer a summons by the police if made. Their release prompted further protests by right wing paramilitary groups outside the police station where the students were detained. The students were then rearrested by the police under the same charges. Members of paramilitary organisations attacked the students, throwing shoes at them as they were being transported from a court.
The three students are set to remain in police custody until at least March 7, 2020.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about arbitrary imprisonment and prosecution of students, as well as their suspension in retaliation for nonviolent expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association, and undermine democratic society generally. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from arbitrary arrests and prosecution of students for exercising their internationally recognized rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression – conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. University officials likewise have an obligation to foster a free, safe, university environment and to refrain from punishing students for nonviolent expression.